FAST BACKWARD: American landmarks in Davao

Fast Backward by Antonio V. Figueroa

One hundred and twenty years after the Americans set foot in Davao City, the legacy they left behind—a few of them destroyed to give way to progress–are immortalized in landmarks. 

A landmark is defined as “an object or feature of a landscape or town that is easily seen and recognized from a distance, especially one that enables someone to establish their location.”

Except for a few English loan-words that have been introduced in the vernaculars, American imprints in Davao region are mostly in form of markers. Ten of these signposts, some still visible to us, have not generated strong interest among non-history lovers.

For instance, Ligid Islands, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Island Garden City of Samal, was officially named in the 1918 US printed map as Liggett, after Lt. Gen. Hunter Liggett of the US 31st Infantry, the first military district governor of Davao (1899-1901).

As a soldier, he earned a Distinguished Service Medal (U.S.), Legion of Honor (France), Order of Leopold (Belgium), and Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus (Italy). Fort Hunter Liggett, a military base; Hunter Liggett Army Airfield in Georgia, USA; Liggett Hall in New York Harbor, and USS Hunter Liggett, a passenger ship turned over the Army, were named after him. 

Decades ago, there used to be a plaza, a bridge, and a theatre in the city that carried the signature Clifford. It was named in honor of Col. Thomas E. ‘Jock’ Clifford Jr., an American soldier who led the US 19th Infantry Regiment who was later tagged as the ‘liberator of Davao City.’

Clifford, known as the ‘Hell-Roaring Jack,’ was killed on June 24, 1945, by Japanese mortar fire a day before the organized resistance in Mindanao was ended. He figured in the capture of several villages west of Davao City. The Clifford Park, a town plaza named in his honor, has since been integrated in what is now known as Freedom Park.

On the other hand, Jones Circle, a small rotunda with a concrete bust at the intersection of Oyanguren (now Magsaysay) and Claveria (now Recto) at Acacia area. The statue was that of US Rep. William Atkinson Jones (1849-1918) who authored the 1916 Jones Law, also known as the Philippine Autonomy Act, that repelled the 1902 Philippine Organic Act. The Jones Bridge in Manila was also named in his honor.

Though the street in his honor has been retitled, the name of Lt. Edward Robert Bolton, the first American quasi-civil district governor of Davao (1903-06), still rings a bell. He was assassinated on June 6, 1906, by a Tagakaulo tribal ward in Lacaron, Malita, Davao Occidental. Leonard Wood, then governor of Moro Province, extolled his qualities as a civil servant and soldier.

In his memory, the old Bolton (now Cayetano Bangoy) street was named in his memory, including Bolton Isla, a former mangrove area turned squatter colony. Bolton River near Mt. Halcon in Oriental Mindoro, Bolton Bridge in Davao City, and Barangay Bolton in Malalag, Davao del Sur, also perpetuate his memory.

Surviving the frenzy to rename Davao City thoroughfares after local politicos, MacArthur Highway has survived the onslaught. The road, which stretches from Gov. Generoso Bridge in Matina to Ulas, south of the city, is named after US five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Allied Forces who was appointed field marshal of the Philippine Army.

The famous Salmonan area near the reclaimed Magsaysay Park was a former fisherman’s wharf and fish landing area. The place got its name from the threadfin salmon (Eleutheronema tetradactylum), popular among Americans residing in the town of Davao. Overtime, the fish-name was linked by old timers in the area to the place.

In Davao Oriental, the name Boston is immediately connected to the last town of the province. Contrary to folklore, the municipal appellation did not come from Spanish baston, or walking stick, but inspired by a place in Massachusetts. Described by the Americans as ‘an English-speaking town,’ the credit for the place-name points to the early US troops assigned there in the first years of American occupation in the eastern seaboard of Davao region.

Going south, in Digos City, the sprawling Crumb Estate, which has become a densely populated settlement with crisscrossing road network, formerly belonged to American Burdett A. Crumb, owner of the Mindanao Plantation Company. His estate became the subject of a lease cancellation but the Supreme Court, after the war, decided in favor of the heirs.

Two other American features, both geographic landmarks, are known only to a few. The 1951 ‘Narrative and Itinerary’ of the Chicago Natural History Museum identified the terrains as Mount McKinley and Mount Washington:

“Mount McKinley and Mount Washington are joined with Mount Apo by a saddle 6,000 feet high and some four to five miles in length, and they are connected with each other by a saddle about 7,000 feet high. The two form a huge horseshoe-shaped ridge. The continuation of Mount Washington’s ridges to the west of Mount McKinley leaves between the two a huge, steep conical center that gives the impression of an immense crater with one side blown out. In Compostela Valley Province, a volcanic crater in Maco town is known as Lake Leonard, after Leonard Kniaseff, an American postwar mining prospector identified as the first general superintendent of Samar Mining Corporation.